Event Management: To Exhibit or Not to Exhibit

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Well we have survived another EIBTM in Barcelona and the trip concludes a busy year of attending exhibitions, trade shows and fam trips with the objective of increasing our event management and venue-finding knowledge. And boy, what a year it has been! We have worked out we have seen over 300 hotels, venues DMC and support services at these events, which made us question the actual return on investment achieved.

As an event management agency, we appreciate that knowledge brings opportunity and, in its basic form, allows us from a venue-finding perspective to stay ahead of the game. This theory of improving venue-finding knowledge has been a key driver for us to attend, quite often as a hosted buyer. Yet, have we achieved anything more than a bulging wallet of business cards and an endless stream of supplier spam coming into our inboxes?

The simple answer is, I don’t know! Our industry seems to be inundated with trade shows, destination exhibitions and showcases from various sources and to be honest, attending them all could be a full time job in itself. But, in attending so many, I wonder if the actual value that they bring becomes diluted? It’s hard to be inspired by countless ipad presentations showcasing hotel bedrooms and ballrooms. It’s tiring to constantly explain what we do as an event management company and venue -finding team to suppliers who have not done their homework before hand.

As we sit down and plan our marketing strategy for 2013, we have only one objective in mind, to grow our event management and venue-finding business. By attending trade shows as a buyer, we aimed to improve our venue-finding knowledge while being given the opportunity to network with potential new clients. However, we have had mixed results, so we question whether we should flip this round and become an exhibiter rather than a hosted buyer?

Exhibiting certainly offers an opportunity to identify new clients and showcase the Clearwater Events brand. But, with so many shows to select from, where does one start? And in turn, looking at cost, how can a small event management and DMC agency such as ourselves ever possibly afford the incredibly expensive stand rentals? We are absolutely priced out of exhibiting, which is sad, as there are many smaller companies out there that not only could grow as a result of exhibiting, but also offer something a little more unique and fresh to the market place?

As a seller, as well as a buyer, I am not particularly interested in visiting the big hotel and supplier stands as we have relationships with them already. I am interested in building links with smaller niche suppliers that can offer a real value add to my product offering. With this in mind, surely the trade shows would benefit from having event management, venue-finding and DMC companies like us exhibiting? As a start up, I am surprised that there really isn’t much help out there to allow us the opportunity to exhibit, which in turn helps grow our business injects creativity, investment and longevity into our fragile industry.

So, my next question is the value of the hosted buyer. I wonder if the hosted buyer model needs to change? I appreciate that the hosted buyer programme guarantees appointments to exhibitors and therefore potential sales leads. But, it does little to promote relationship building and often, with such tight schedules, you spend the entire time running from appointment to appointment whilst frantically catching up on emails in-between with little to no time for networking!

The culture of hosted buyer appointments of course has its place, but so does an element of trust and empowerment for those attending. Very few of us attend these shows for a ‘jolly’, rather, we attend to network, grow and improve knowledge. Considering this, surely more business would be achieved by having the opportunity to enjoy the many different stands at the show freely?

I fear that if Clearwater Events does manage to find the cash to exhibit next year, will a hosted buyer programme actually limit and stunt our potential client reach? As a new event management agency, if we don’t look appealing in the appointment diary, we won’t get the appointments and as such, may end up with an empty stand while hosted buyers whizz past us to their next meeting with the big boys…